Kids & Cold: Frostbite is Winter’s Bully

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Freezing temps shouldn't spoil your child's desire to play outside. Bundle him up!

Don’t let this cold weather keep your outdoorsy kid inside because of your frostbite concerns. Fresh air is good for kids — even when it’s icy cold! However, DO keep an eye out for how long your child’s outside related to the temperature. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ winter safety tips, children shouldn’t be allowed to play outdoors if the actual or wind chill temperature is less than -15˚F. With proper clothing and a watchful eye on the weather, kids can enjoy plenty of outdoor winter fun.

Dontal Johnson, M.D., CPT, assistant professor of pediatrics at Meharry Medical College, says kids can play outdoors in the winter, but should do so for a short amount of time. “Generally, pediatricians prefer infants and toddlers to remain indoors when weather is extreme,” says Johnson.

Joseph H. Wandass, III, M.D., Ph.D., with Saint Thomas Medical Partners, is certainly familiar with extreme weather, having grown up in Western New York. “The recent spate of cold temperatures in the Nashville area finds some of us questioning proper clothing and activities for our children,” he says.

While your child’s enjoying the winter weather, keep an eye on the clock! Bring him in periodically to warm up, especially if his clothes have gotten wet. Change any wet garments to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, which Johnson says are two of the most common issues for small children during the winter. 

Frostbite

Remember running inside after playing out in the cold for so long that your fingers hurt for tingling? Tingling’s a warning sign. It’s time to warm him up.

“First, check the color of the skin and assess how it looks and ask him how it feels when you touch his hands,” says Johnson. “Frostbite happens when the skin becomes frozen and usually effects fingers, toes, ears and the nose. Skin looks red and children say it feels ‘tingly.’ Then, it progresses to a gray color that’s painful to the touch, then white feeling, hard and painless,” he adds.

If this happens, don’t rush the heating process and certainly do not rub his hands, cautions Johnson. “For mild cases of frozen hands, cover with warm clothing or blankets,” says Johnson. Wandass says to warm the affected body part in warm (104˚F) water. It’s OK to dose your child up with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, too. Johnson says frostbite can cause pain upon rewarming. “If blistering occurs seek medical attention,” he adds.

Hypothermia

Both doctors say that while dressing your kids, add one more layer of clothing than you would wear in the same conditions. While it’s fun for older kids to play outdoors, keep newborns and infants inside unless absolutely necessary during extreme weather conditions. “Infants have decreased subcutaneous fat and can’t shiver (a way to maintain homeostasis),” says Johnson. “They’re more prone to extreme temperatures and even small children have a hard time articulating just how cold they are,” he adds.

“Hypothermia is a condition where a child’s temperature begins to fall below normal because he’s losing heat faster than his body can generate it,” says Wandass. He says this is most likely to happen if the clothing gets wet. According to Wandass, symptoms to look for are shivering, slow or clumsy movement, and slurred speech.

“If you suspect that your child has hypothermia, remove any wet clothing, take him indoors, wrap him in blankets and warm clothes, and call 911,” says Wandass.

Find the Balance

It’s fun to play outside no matter the weather, but often parents, teachers and others say “No” to outdoor play because it makes them worry. Don’t go there; find a healthy balance. Kids can spend time outside daily, but in extreme temps you simply limit it. Find encouraging ways to get them back indoors for warm ups. Throw clothes in the dryer and have hot chocolate at the ready, and encourage all kinds of play, indoors and out!

 

 

Kiera Ashford is associate editor of Nashville Parent and mother of three.

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